Tunisia Cinematography

By | December 14, 2021

Subjected to the French administration since 1883, the Tunisia, after very bitter contrasts, achieved independence in 1956. Subsequently, despite the difficulties with France, it has always maintained a policy of openness towards Europe, developing good relations also with the countries of the communist bloc. Unlike other Maghreb countries, cinema has had deep roots here and has been able to develop original author paths. For Tunisia 1996, please check pharmacylib.com.

Birth and early developments

The birth of cinema in Tunisia dates back to the 1920s and is linked to the name of Albert Shammama Shikly, who had already organized the first public screenings in Tunis in 1897, made by the operators of the Lumière brothers. As a director, Shammama Shikly directed in 1922 the first Tunisian short film, al-Zahara, in which the story of a French girl who was shipwrecked and saved by an aviator is intertwined with scenes from the life of the Bedouins, and in 1924 the first feature film, ῾Ainu al- ġazal, known as La fille de Carthage, a tragic love story between two young people separated by social conventions. The fictional feature films Terqui (1935) by Abdelaziz Hassine and Maǧnūn al-Qayrawān (1939, Il pazzo di Kairuan) by MJ Creusi belong to the first sound period of Tunisian cinema with the contribution of Georges Derocles. In 1946 the Afrique film studios (founded by Derocles with the aim of producing documentaries and newsreels), the Tunisian Cinema Center and the first film clubs were born. It was a moment of great ferment, which led to the establishment of other important bodies: the Fédération tunisienne des ciné-clubs (FTCC) in 1950; the Cinémathèque Tunisienne in 1954; the Société anonyme tunisienne de production et d’expansion cinématographique (SATPEC) in 1957; the Fédération tunisienne du cinéma amateur (FTCA) in 1958. The latter was created by Tahar Cheriaa, a personality of enormous value for the growth of Tunisian cinema and creator, in 1966, of Journées cinématographiques de Carthage. Finally, in 1971, the Association des cinéastes tunisiens (ACT) was born.

In 1966 the first completely Tunisian feature film was made, al-Faǧr (The Dawn) by Omar Khlifi, whose protagonists are three young people who fight and die for their homeland during the war of liberation. Another title of great importance is H̠alīfa al-aǧrās῾ (1969, Khalifa the bald) by Hamouda Ben Halima, a description of the story of an orphan in a neighborhood of old Tunis in the early 20th century. More interested in developing a social and political discourse are Brahim Babal’s Wa ġadan … (1972, And Tomorrow…), an odyssey of three peasants forced to leave their arid lands and look for work in the city; Risāla min Saǧnān, known as Sejnane, 1974) by Abdellatif Ben Ammar, a strongly realistic film in narrating the awareness of a young man during the Resistance; al-Sufarā᾽ (1975, The ambassadors) by Nāsir Ktari, a harsh choral portrait of immigrant workers in a Parisian neighborhood; Šams al-ḍibā῾a (1977, The sun of the hyenas) by Rida Behi, a typical film of denunciation that analyzes the harmful consequences of the construction of a tourist complex in a fishing village; Fatma 75 by Selma Baccar, a documentary made in 1975, but for reasons of censorship released in 1978, about three generations of women in as many periods in the history of Tunisia.  Since 1975, the presence of the Nouveau théâtre of Tunis has been of fundamental importance, an avant-garde collective that has been able to spread the results of its theatrical research also at a cinematographic level: the collective film al-῾Urs (1978, The wedding) and ῾Arab (1988, Arabi) by Fadhel Jaibi and Fadhel Jaziri.

Renovation and auteur cinema

In the 1980s, Tunisian cinema experienced a golden age thanks to filmmakers who tackled burning social issues with an innovative outlook. Memory and exile, multi-ethnic coexistence as a source of enrichment and conflict are the topics on which Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud’s work is based since his debut feature film ῾Ubūr (1982; La traversata). Nejia Ben Mabrouk described in the film known as La trace (made in 1982 but, for reasons of censorship and distribution, released in Tunisia only in 1988) the existential path of a girl and her rebellion against social hierarchies. Former member of the Fédération tunisienne du cinéma amateur, for which he shot the first works, Taïeb Louhichi has dealt with both tradition, understood as the preservation of an ancestral culture (Ẓhil al-arḍ, 1982, The shadow of the earth) and as a legacy of legends (the story of a love that leads to madness in Maǧnūn Layla, 1989, Layla my reason), both with contemporary urbanization (῾Urs al-qamar, 1998, Wedding of the moon). Film critic and historian, Ferid Boughedir has made documentaries on the history of African (Caméras d’Afrique, 1983) and Arab (al-Kāmīra ῾Arabīyya, also known as Caméras arabes, 1986) and works of fiction inscribed in social comedy (Halfawīn – ῾Usfūr al saṭḥ, 1990, also known as Halfaouine – L’enfant des terrasses; Sayf fī Ḥalq al-Wādī, 1995, A summer in La Goulette). Sex, political repression, the condition of women are at the center of Nouri Bouzid’s films, from Rīḥ al-sadd, known as L’homme de cendre, 1986) to ῾Arā᾽is al-Ṭīn᾽ known as Poupées d’argile, 2002). A separate place is occupied by Nacer Khemir, director, writer, storyteller who in al-Hā᾽imūn fī al-Ṣaḥrā᾽ also known as Les baliseurs du désert (1984) and Ṭawq al-ḥamāma al-mafqūd (1990, The series perduta della colomba) ventured into the territories of fable, mystery and seduction dating back to The Thousand and One Nights.

Other significant directors are: Moufida Tlatli, editor of most of the Tunisian and Arab nouvelle vague masterpieces of the seventies and eighties, and filmmaker who privileged the description of complex female figures in Ṣamt al-quṣūr (1994; The silence of the palace) and La saison des hommes (2000); Mohamed Zran, author of the realistic and glossy Essaïda (1996), set in the homonymous suburb of Tunis; Mohamed Ben Smaïl, actor and director, in whose first work Ġadwa naḥrek… (1998, Domani, brucio…) follows, in the sign of narrative and aesthetic wandering, the existential drift of a man who has returned to Tunisia from Paris ; Raja Amari, who with Satin rouge (2002) outlined the portrait of a woman rediscovering her own sensuality.

Tunisia Cinematography